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My Turn: Why the arts deserve our support

By Jean and Foster Owen

With our recent trip to Salisbury to attend the seventh annual Pops at the Post concert, and with an awareness of the current struggles to retain public funding for the arts in Salisbury/Rowan, we are led to share our thoughts on the subject.
Although we now live in Chapel Hill, we continue to be very much interested and involved with the arts community in Salisbury/Rowan. For the occasion of the pops concert, we brought two Chapel Hill friends with us to spend the day and attend the concert. They were astounded by the professional quality of the orchestra, the number of attendees — more than 3,500 people from all over the Piedmont — and the strong support shown by private individuals, the business community and local government to produce such an event. This prompted us to point out that Pops at the Post is just one of numerous arts events that occur continuously throughout the year. We began reciting a list of organizations and events that make up the fabric of this vital part of the community. Our friends were amazed. Coming from a university town such as Chapel Hill, they are not easily impressed. They were impressed.
While we shared their enthusiasm, we were quick to point out that, with all its current vibrancy, Salisbury/ Rowan, like arts communities around the country, is struggling. Elected officials are having to make a lot of tough choices, establish priorities and determine what gets funded and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, the arts are always a great source of “low-hanging fruit” that is easily picked by politicians in their attempts to show voters how willing they are to cut out “unnecessary” spending.
Sadly, cutting out funding for the arts actually does little to balance budgets or reduce deficits. Conversely, eliminating or reducing funding for the arts and cultural programs from a community will also often remove them from the list of more desirable places people want to live and raise families. As many of us are aware, arts in the Salisbury/Rowan community have taken giant leaps forward over the past 10 or 15 years, especially programs for children.
Recent economic studies done about our region, targeting the arts, have shown them to actually be revenue generators. This is definitely true for the Salisbury/Rowan community. Jobs have been created, people have moved to the area to take employment in the arts, and individuals from other towns and cities often come here for art-related performances. They eat in local restaurants, stay in local motels, shop with local merchants, even purchase homes and condominiums. This all helps in building a strong local economy. It takes time and effort to develop and nurture such a community. Once it is injured or destroyed, it is very difficult to ever get back.
Before we take a budgetary meat cleaver to the Salisbury/Rowan arts community, let’s pause for a moment and examine the long-term effects such action will have on this valued asset. It has taken more than 50 years of dedication by hard-working individuals, many public/private partnerships and strong support from elected officials to create the wonderful arts community we enjoy today. It has required sacrifice and strong leadership from people who have been able to bring stakeholders together, to create balance and moderation in solving and enhancing art-related issues over time.
So, for all who enjoy the arts in Salisbury/Rowan, take a moment to contact your elected officials at all levels of government to offer support and encouragement and to implore them to have the courage to modify but not destroy this wonderful jewel of the Piedmont. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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Before moving to Chapel Hill in 2008, Jean and Foster Owen were longtime residents and community activists in Salisbury, where Foster Owen served as assistant city manager. 

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